Aloha El Salvador!

Despite how well they seem to go, we’re always stressed about border crossings. The rest of the time, we don’t seem to notice how far away from ‘home’ we are, nor do we feel like we’re tip toeing through hostile lands.  In fact, we’re usually very comfortable and secure in our surroundings. But on border-crossing day, we just never know what awaits us on the other side. It doesn’t help that the people in the country we’re leaving always seem to hold their neighbors suspect, shaking their heads and waving a foreboding finger about XYZ’s villainous ways.  In the US, we received ample warning about Mexico, Mexico warned us about Belize, Belize about Guatemala, and Guatemala about El Salvador. Apparently no matter where you live, Boo Radley always lives next door.

What we do find consistently disturbing is the violent history of the countries we visit, particularly because the nation states’ brutal pasts don’t seem to reflect the personalities of the people we meet.  Like Guatemala, El Salvador also suffered internecine warfare that coincided with the circumspect meddling of a certain Uncle Sam. It’s not surprising why civil war broke out: for as long as anyone could remember, the reins of El Salvador’s government had resided in the hands of one military dictatorship or another, while the economy had been controlled by the celebrated 14 coffee and industrial families. By the 20th century, 95% of El Salvador’s income derived from coffee exports, but only 2% of Salvadorans controlled that wealth.

What was surprising, however, is that during the course of the 12 year Salvadoran civil war between 1979-1992, the US government gave a mind blowing US $6 billion to the Salvadoran’s war effort. Today El Salvador’s currency is the US dollar, and our guess is they simply didn’t have enough of their own currency to exchange the $6 billion in military aid! Why, oh why, do we spend so much on weapons?

The United States was supporting the government of El Salvador, said President Ronald Reagan, because it was trying “to halt the infiltration into the Americas, by terrorists and by outside interference, and those who aren’t just aiming at El Salvador but, I think, are aiming at the whole of Central and possibly later South America and, I’m sure, eventually North America.”  That’s just CRAZY talk.  It’s plain paranoia to think that poverty stricken peasants cum guerilla fighters desperately resisting oppression could be misconstrued as terrorists intent on taking over the Americas.  What the US was really doing was watching out for its OWN financial interests. By funding the government death squads, the US prolonged the bloodshed, and an estimated 75,000 people were killed.

Yet, why would I be surprised? In current events, recent protests in Egypt have prompted renewed questions about the U.S.’s aid to the country—an issue that the current administration has also pledged to reconsider (the Bush administration staunchly defended this expenditure). Since 1979 the US has been giving Egypt $2 billion dollars a year in foreign aid, $1.3 of which is to buy weapons from US weapons manufacturers.
Here’s a 2009 U.S. embassy cable recently released by WikiLeaks in regards to the aid:
President Mubarak and military leaders view our military assistance program as the cornerstone of our mil-mil relationship and consider the USD 1.3 billion in annual FMF as “untouchable compensation” for making and maintaining peace with Israel. The tangible benefits to our mil-mil relationship are clear: Egypt remains at peace with Israel, and the U.S. military enjoys priority access to the Suez Canal and Egyptian airspace.

Obviously the aid benefits Egypt’s military and whatever government it supports, but who else benefits from this ‘aid’ arrangement paid for by US tax dollars? Answer: U.S. defense contractors. 

In 1961, during his farewell address, President Eisenhower famously warns of the overreaching power and influence of the military industrial complex:

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience…We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

I say we trade the military industrial complex for a peaceful and sustainable one. What do you think?

Photos of our border crossing day…

Approaching the Guatemalan El Salvador border. It was a tiny crossing on a small bridge. A guard from each country stood on their respective sides with shot guns.

Countries seem to be flying by now that we’re in Central America. We’ve got to keep the flags handy so they are ready to be slapped on the Sprinter. El Salvador is now added!

Stevie celebrating a new country!

Our first experience with rush hour traffic in El Salvador. That rear passenger side tire is looking a little worn to me.

In case you’re interested, below are two links–the first is Eisenhower’s complete farewell address, an amazing speech and well-worth the five minutes it takes to read, and the second is a short history about El Salvador between 1980-1994.  

Military-Industrial-Complex Speech:
Excerpt from “Killing Hope”


  1. I love reading your blog. So insightful. Thanks for sharing Stevie. Eric

  2. Drive safe and be careful in the rush hour traffic in El Salvador…

  3. I think we should all "hug it out". 🙂 and stop dicking with other countries affairs. Granted making good business deals is important to our economy but not at the expense of our nations morality. I do believe that the more of our generation takes control of the government and top positions things will get better, not worse. And don't forget to vote, and research who and what you are voting for!!!! Sarah Palin is the devils whore! 🙂 xoxo

  4. Love your narrative Stevie and I am in total agreement with you politically.

    Keep it coming, you and Tree can make a difference in this confused world.

    Rick (Santa Monica)

  5. I don't think we know the half of it when it comes to the crazy things we've done in central and south america in the last 50 years. What we do know is sad enough though. I don't think it matters who we put in office or what generation they are from. The big corporations and the military industrial complex make the decisions. Not the politicians and certainly not we, the people

  6. Hola,

    ¿Cómo están?

    I really love your postings on Sprinter.
    Have you though about contacting Lonely Planet? I think you guys could do a lot!

    I love the Historical connection that your doing in your articles regarding the big influence the States has in all this countries. I personaly think you guys can do something very intresting, come out in some TV show completly alternative, I don´t know I just think the trip that you guys are doing is taking a very intresting shape, that is not only a dream of both of you and an inner trip but is starting to have global dimentions that could end up in a very intresting solid result. A book, a TV show, a guide book like Lonely Planet, something that would reach out.
    Well I just felt like I had to tell you that, may be an idea will rose within u?
    Anyway muchas pero muchísisisisimas felicidades por el viaje que están haciendo, por compartirlo con tanto cariño (se siente increíblemente el cariño que le ponen a sus artículos) y por darnos a conocer eventos históricos interesantes.

    Besos a los dos y un abrazo apapachador para Kiki-Chewy!

    Super buen día.

  7. I was in El Salvador many years ago. There is an park there… Imposible… check it out. I think you'll really like it. It is one of the only forested places left in the country. All the trees were cut down.

  8. Really enjoyed the Overland article on YouGuys.

    rock on.
    and ps, i nicknamed that city Hellcapulco in 1998. or 99?

  9. that looks like one serious high security border there. Super photo.

  10. Stevie, your insights and commentary ROCK. I wish I could put you two in charge of things!

  11. That's for sure. We Americans have been misinformed,( and naive and apathetic) for generations regarding how our money is spent to keep these dictators and their corporate overlords in power. The key is information – and articles like yours are SO necessary to help re-educate people. Thank you!

  12. Keep up the good work, both of you. The kind of insights and compassion that you share make a difference. One step at a time. . .

  13. Did you know Ronald Reagan is ranked #5 on the list of the most brutal people in Central America of al time? That is some pretty bad company. He had to be one of the worst presidents we've ever had, especially when it comes to human rights.

  14. Ohhhh, you're going to really enjoy the surfing in that country. They get year around waves, pick up every swell direction, and its not so crowded. Be careful of the locals though. They are territorial. And remember what I told you about Nicaragua…when you get there…

  15. I can appreciate that you are getting a new perspective on America and the measures our gov't takes to keep our economic prosperity. It strikes me as ironic that you blog about the negative aspects of our foreign affairs and at the same time reap from the benefits. I’m not saying that we should turn a blind eye to our countries faults and misgivings however it’s important to keep proper perspective in our writings. From your blog postings I feel like it’s always negative about The United States.

    I found this on another blog and thought it was appropriate. Regarding the United States of America…..

    "We can ALWAYS be proud of the ideals. That is really what it means to be proud of the United States of America. We were founded on principles that are timeless and right. In fact, this country is unique in this world, in that it is held together by ideas rather than ethnicity, heritage or religion and for all of our shortcomings, that is a pretty amazing concept. There is never any question that it is something of which we can all be unabashedly proud."

    I love you guys and know that in your travels you spread the good that is America. After all, America isn't policy and politics its people like you and me. Spread the word.

    America is GREAT!

  16. Hi John,

    Let me start by saying that we love you and thank you for posting. I love and appreciate dialectics, the pursuit of truth through the exchange of viewpoints while applying reason, a.k.a. good conversation.

    First, I’d like to say that I agree, “We can ALWAYS be proud of the ideals. That is really what it means to be proud of the United States of America. We were founded on principles that are timeless and right.”

    So, what are our ideals? Eisenhower said, “Throughout America's adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations”. I love those ideals, but ideals are only worth as much as the action that embodies them. If our behavior as a nation negates those principles, how can we still be proud?

    You mention that you find my posts about the United States to be ‘negative,’ and I want to address your feelings. I believe that expressing truth—even when it’s uncomfortable and can be construed as negative—is important, particularly in a democracy where our government’s actions are supposed to reflect the will of the people. In theory, our policy and our politics are very much the America that is comprised of people like you and me, so much as one’s own behavior makes up one’s personal identity. Howard Zinn expresses my intention well by explaining, “while some people think that dissent is unpatriotic, I would argue that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. In fact, if patriotism means being true to the principles for which your country is supposed to stand, then certainly the right to dissent is one of those principles”.

    In other words, I am not voicing dissent because I don’t love my country. On the contrary, I love it so much that I feel obligated to speak out. My hope is that if we, the people, are aware of the truth about our nation’s unsavory behavior that in fact undermines our ideals, we’ll all work together to change that behavior. How can we move forward if we’re not willing to open our eyes and see where we truly stand today? It's easy to look at the things our government did 30 years ago and brush them off as a different era. But when we see that it's still going on today (Examples: invading Iraq, military aid to Egypt), the continued horrors and mistakes are undeniable. We are all active participants and we're all responsible.

    I think you made an interesting point when you said that it strikes you “as ironic” that I “blog about the negative aspects of our foreign affairs and at the same time reap the benefits.” I think you were alluding to the financial benefits that we enjoy, allowing us to travel the world while ironically growing disenchanted with the system that affords this opportunity. Well, it’s true. Traveling has further opened our eyes and made us see that so much of the privilege we have as US citizens is not just because we’re the best, it’s because we stepped on the backs of so many others to get it. I am seeing war torn countries into which the United States sent billions of dollars of weapons in support of military dictatorships. Hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children have died because of that aid and those weapons. For me, at this point it's not irony; it's heartbreaking…..(to be continued on next comment)

  17. …(continued from previous comment)

    I don't have all the answers, but I believe that step one is to admit our complicity. We’ve done some pretty shitty things to assert world dominance, but we can change. So step two, we demand that we, as ‘Americans,’ do better. It doesn’t have to be us vs. them, the haves against the have-nots. To hell with the CIA and the military industrial complex! There’s a peaceable, sustainable, and fair way where everyone benefits. So, let’s actually stand up for the ideals that we hold so close to our hearts instead of just paying lip service to them, and lets lead the world in a way that makes us proud. The very first thing that I would do would be to STOP with the foreign military 'aid' and instead take those billions of dollars to build schools and sustainable economies in these countries. I think that would be a good start. But enough about what I think.

    I'd like to open this back up to you Simko and to everyone else, and ask what you think we can do as US citizens to uphold the ideals that make our country great? Do you think our media can do a better job of reporting truth? Do you think that we should dismantle the CIA? How much do you think big business and the military industrial complex influences our politics and policies abroad? Do you think that certain evils are necessary to sustain our national security and relative economic wealth; if so, in what ways? Do you believe that we can be principled and dominant at the same time?

  18. Lots of interesting points. I think its really important to separate the people from the governments. As you guys are probably finding in your travels, the people of a country rarely reflect the governing body. Governments do bad things. But I do think its the peoples job to hold the government accountable. But I'm not sure how you do that when the special interests control everything?

  19. Every country has skeletons in their closets. America is still the greatest country on earth.

  20. Fair point John. And its just like Stevie said in her blog – the everyday PEOPLE that they meet in each country are wonderful loving folks, who only want to live their lives in peace and love. Just like us. But whichever GOVERNMENT is in power, whether in Central America or in the United States – the wealthy and corporate interests are the REAL power – and their truest motives are wealth and power. So they misinform us, (the everyday folks), and do incredibly immoral things in our name. It truly does seem that power corrupts, or else perhaps only the morally insane and uncaring rise to power. Yes, America is probably one of the most "free" and economically secure places on earth, and we are blessed to live here. But its also true that we have risen to the top on the backs of impoverished peoples all over the world, by supporting war and corruption. Its all true.

  21. Stevie,

    Absolutely the "foreign aid" should be stopped and redirected to humanitarian causes. Our support of Mubarak kept him in power for thirty years, crushing true democracy in Egypt. We should live up to our ideals by allowing other countries the freedom to form their own futures. Another big thing that would help the rest of the world is if we clean up our OWN corruption. Our own government is bought and paid for by wealthy corporations (as is the media). True campaign finance reform would be a start.

  22. Well, What the hell, I check the blog hoping to see some great photos (which I did), and now I got sucked into reading all this. Being a world traveler myself, I have to say that my experience is that the world (yes, most all of it) thinks our government is the worst on the planet. Americans don't realize this because we hardly travel, but its true. We are not very well loved out there.

  23. Stevie- Thank you for your thoughtful response. Gosh I forgot how full of fire you are, I’ve always liked that about you. I know you and I know you have a heart of gold. I also know that your writings have only the best intentions. You have made many good points and have brought attention and awareness to many bad policies and events that we as “patriots” should take into consideration.
    I have read every single one of the Sprinter Life posts and just wanted to point out that America, while hardly perfect, is great. For all the bad things, strike that, horrific things we do as a nation, as a people we do incredible and generous deeds every day. While I agree that to point out Americas faults and wrong doings is important to educate and inform it is not the most patriotic thing we can do. Howard Zinn is WRONG. Living in San Diego a big military town, I'm sure there are many widows here that would agree with me on this point. Sorry to pull that card on you. Dissent falls behind death, sacrifice, and service. The fact that we can freely criticize our government and its actions isn’t because of dissent. For that matter many other countries have the same liberties due to our nations death , sacrifice and service.
    Dissent, I love it. Shit my favorite band is Rage Against the Machine. Words and symbols are strong, they lead to revolutions, they change peoples heart. This can be good and this can be bad. The point of my post wasn’t to get you to stop criticizing our nation and its actions. I just wanted to point out that dissent isn’t enough and it can lead people down the wrong path. Balance is needed more now than ever.

    Keep em' coming.

  24. It wasn’t until I started traveling the world that I learned to love the US. As a US citizen, I left in 2008 to find a better place to live. It took me three years and 55 countries to learn that there is no “best place”. All have pros and cons and nowhere is perfect. I now live in El Salvador because I like its “cons” better, for the time being, than the US. But I can’t deny that the government of ES is seriously f*d up and does horrible things to its people and its land (and no, not all are US-backed). I hate the long list of atrocities that the US has inflicted on the world, however, I appreciate that I can live life easily and simply there if I so choose, that I have ample opportunities to find work and earn a living, that I have rights that are upheld and protected by the same government that I often dislike, that there are protocols in place to protect the environment and consequences, ultimately, for those who do not. The ability to criticise the pros and cons of our country, is one of the things that makes it great, and dissent, debate and good conversation is what will, in the long run, make it better.

    • Very well said. It’s funny, just the other night I was saying the same thing to some fellow American friends who have been living abroad. When we first left three years ago, I was understandably critical of our government (and I still am), but I was also a bit idealistic about other governments. I think my cynicism and appreciation are better rooted in reality these days. Glad to hear that you’re enjoying El Salvador. Take care!

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